Ashok Gadgil, a 56-year-old Mumbai native, wanted to do something to help the displaced persons and refugees from Darfur. He had been approached by USAID about a cooking fuel project for the Darfurians that did not seem promising and decided to approach the problem of improving the cooking technology in that part of western Sudan and Chad where the displaced persons and refugees had settled. And since it was not practical follow up on USAID's idea to make fuel pellets out of waste in Darfur, he decided to try to improve the stoves that the people of Darfur were using.
Gadgil had had experience in developing appropriate technology. In 1996 a start-up company was launched using his simple design for cheaply disinfecting water using ultraviolet light.
Gadgil came up with the idea of modifying an existing Indian stove for use in Darfur and got his lab colleagues and students at University of California at Berkeley to help him. Together they developed the Berkeley-Darfur Stove and started darfurstoves.org. The Indian stove had to be significantly modified as the Indian stove was designed to produce low-intensity heat for cooking rice and other staples in India, in Darfur people needed a high-powered flame for sautéing onions, garlic and okra, ingredients in their staple dish, mulah. Also Darfurians cook outside where there is often a strong wind; so the stove had to be resistant to such wind.
Professor Gadgil and his partners in Berkeley teamed with Engineers Without Borders and CHF International, both NGOs as well, to take the project to Sudan. Their plan is to distribute stoves to nearly all 300,000 refugee families in the camps.
All of the plans have not been finalized. For example there is not yet a plan on how the distribution of the stoves will be made. The people in the camps can afford very little, but darfurstoves.org does not believe the stoves should be simply handed out as charity.
One of the major benefits of the Berkeley Darfur Stove is that it provides women in refugee camps a greater measure of safety. Because this stove is four times more efficient than traditional 3-stone fires and two times more efficient than clay stoves women need to leave the camps much less often to forage for fire wood.
This stove also fully encloses the flames, thereby reducing the danger of fire in the straw-and-stick shelters in the camps. It also reduces smoke inhalation in the cramped shelters during indoor cooking.
The Berkeley Darfur Stove is said to provide better nutrition to the people in the camps, because it reduces missed meals resulting from a lack of fuelwood. The proponents of the stove also believe that it has a potential for generating income for the displaced persons and refugees because the time needed to forage for fuelwood will be reduced from the average seven hours a week needed for the traditional three stone fires. This time can be used for income generating activities. Finally, it is hoped that the stove will help the environment by reducing the amount of fuelwood foraged, thereby possibly allowing some restoration of local vegetation.